On the last day of our South Africa Safari, we were very lucky to meet a cheetah. It had been a great tour with Patrick, a very knowledgeable guide and it was soon time to drive back to the lodge and go back to our treehouse. We were all looking at a lagoon and some crocodiles we could see there, while Patrick was telling us interesting facts. I was taking some photos in the meantime. At the same time, my aunt looks in a different direction and spots a cheetah walking straight towards our car. She became speechless and someone whispered: ” look, there is a cheetah.”
There I was, less than a meter away from the cheetah. I would have never imagined what would happen next, not even in my wildest dreams. At this moment, I was just feeling extremely happy that this dream had come true. I had lost the hope we would see a cheetah during our South African Safari.
That is when the unbelievable part happened. Our guide, Patrick, stepped out of the car and he said,”now you can come out of the car and say hello to her.” I was quite sure that it was a joke and I looked at him skeptical. We had been told many times that we can never go out of the car near to a wild animal. However, as soon as I realized this was not a joke, I jumped out of the car immediately.
This video shows the beginning of this experience with the cheetah walking towards us (My mind was on the cheetah and not the video, and since it was starting to get dark the video quality could be better):
Earlier, when we had been watching the lions, Patrick had been telling us some of the differences between a cheetah and a lion. He explained that a lions instinct is very strong and will normally take over its actions.
Patrick made an example of a lion that has been raised by humans. A lion that would be raised by a human, could be good friends with it. However if the human would do something that would trigger its hunting instinct, where it is an easy catch, the lion might attach the owner and kill it. After when the lion would calm down, it would try to wake up its owner again and be sad that the owner does not wake up.
On the contrary, in the case of a cheetah, the instinct and intelligence are about the same strength. The instinct might tell it to do something, but its intelligence can stop it. If a cheetah would be in the same situation as the lion before, its intelligence would be stronger then its instinct and it would be able to stop itself.
Petting the cheetah and giving it water
Patrick guided me towards how I could approach the cheetah. I will never forget the feeling of being so near to her. She was so calm, good and happy, and then she started purring. Relaxing there on the ground, licking the water from my palm. I was of course very careful and aware of that she is a wild animal. But my heart was melting while petting this cute and adorable cheetah. The experience happened so fast that my mind was trying to understand if this was truly happening. It felt like a dream.
What is the story of the cheetah, that allows us to get so near to it?
The others also gave the cheetah water and petted it. Patrick explained to us the reasons that it is safe to approach this wild cheetah. Here is a video with a part of the explanation and Thury petting her:
Patrick told us that people at a farm nearby had been the owners of the mother of this cheetah. However, when it got discovered that they were keeping a cheetah, she was taken away from them. She had not been fed the right food and was badly nourished, too small and weak.
At this time the Tshukudu Reserve used to be a rehabilitation center. Therefore they had all the right permits and the cheetah was moved there. They gave her the right supplements and she recovered very quickly.
The mother cheetah went out to be free in the wild and mixed with a wild cheetah. She gave birth to 4 cubs and the cheetah we met is one of them.
This cheetah has never been hand-reared and has been brought up in the wild. She catches and kills her own food. She was brought up with a mum that caught food in the wild and learned to do that on her own.
However, because the mother was friendly towards people, the cubs also got used to people being around. So even though she is not fed by people, she is used to people and can even drink water from their palm.
We felt unbelievably lucky to meet this wonderful cheetah.